By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
When the current 20-year lease expired in 1998, Sheffield said, the city should have given her the courtesy of first refusal before putting out a proposal for bids. The lease proposal she submitted to former PRC director John Gilchrist in 1993 was ignored when Palchikoff took over the post, Sheffield said. Since 1998 the Boathouse has been operating on a month-to-month lease. But several members of the pier board City Council were taken aback a by Sheffield‘s proposal to turn the Boathouse into a motorcycle-themed restaurant that would be run under a new name in partnership with a Canadian restaurant company and a motorcycle manufacturer. They also were concerned that Sheffield’s proposal relied on liquor sales to a greater extent than her competitors.
At a council meeting last fall, officials also questioned the Boathouse‘s track record, contending that the restaurant had become a magnet for crime and that Sheffield had turned it into a venue for special events the city has no control over. City officials also noted that the Boathouse scored an 82 from the County Health Department -- among the two dozen lowest ratings of the 673 establishments that serve food in the city. (Sheffield said that the ”B“ rating had been upgraded to an ”A“ after the Boathouse scored a 93 during a subsequent inspection.)
If the Boathouse’s proposal raised concerns, Bubba Gump‘s offered something no local operator could afford -- more than $3 million to upgrade the structure and install a required elevator from the beach level. ”Had we not gone with someone with the financial strength of Bubba Gump, the City would have to invest $3 million to $4 million of its money to upgrade the site,“ said Councilman Ken Genser, a council liaison to the pier board and a longtime SMRR leader. ”I think we have better places to spend that money than to build a commercial restaurant.“
The Boathouse is not the only site on the pier whose future has recently been up for grabs.
The old site next to the historic carousel building has been sitting empty since May, when the Arcadia, like its predecessor, the laid-back folk club Ash Grove, went belly up. City officials are currently entertaining proposals for a new operator.
Plans for Club Route 66, a nearly 700-seat nightclub approved by the council in the mid-1990s, seem to have been jettisoned in the midst of an uncertain economy. City officials say that developer Russell Barnard, who owns Rusty’s Surf Ranch on the pier, recently informed them that he was having second thoughts.
”He‘s contemplating not pursuing the permits,“ said Jeff Mathieu, the city’s resource manager, who as harbor master is in charge of the pier. ”He‘s exploring options. It’s unclear what his target is, but he has been considering a variety of things. He wants to be sure that it‘s a viable operation that could work year-round.“
While plans for the nightclub are up in the air, pier officials are set to approve a lease with Pacific Park, which could give the fun zone up to 30 more years on the pier, Mathieu said. Since opening in 1996, the park has seen more downs than ups. Like the Ash Grove, the park has not paid a dime of rent, although operators contend that they have pumped close to $2.5 million in lieu of rent into improving the pier’s substructure, city officials said.
Pacific Park -- with its nine-story-tall Ferris wheel glowing with more than 6,000 incandescent, multicolored light bulbs -- perhaps best symbolizes the pier‘s restless 18-year search for a vision and a soul. It was the brainchild of SMRR’s old guard, who viewed it as a beacon that could be seen up and down the coast.
To drive the derelicts off the wooden structure, with its rusty rides and scattered fishermen, the pier board appointed by an SMRR-dominated council shut down the old low-tech fun zone, where for a few quarters teenagers could throw pingpong balls in cups or upend plastic frogs from plastic lily pads and win stuffed animals for their dates.
Instead, pier officials opened a shiny new fun zone near the edge of the water and geared it to families. There would be no plummeting Magic Mountain -- style roller coaster to draw teenage daredevils but a gently undulating ride to lure the tots. Even the proposed height of the Ferris wheel was lowered. The rides were sanitized, fairly expensive and safe, and they lured throngs of families to the pier, though not necessarily to the park, whose request for longer hours was scaled back by a wary council three years ago.
”You have to bring people back to the pier. You have to give them something to come to,“ said SMRR co-chair Nancy Greenstein, who served on the pier board for a decade before being replaced last year. ”When we started, it was perceived as a place for derelicts. People didn‘t bring their families. It had this perception that the pier was unsafe. Now it’s an icon for all of Southern California.“
But the pier‘s detractors note that the structure is not carrying its financial weight, and that there is no overarching vision crafted after the kind of exhaustive community process Santa Monicans are accustomed to expect. ”There’s never been any movement forward on mapping out a master plan or strategic vision,“ said Paul Rosenstein, a former councilman and mayor who has long called for a make-over of the 11-member pier board and more public process before leasing the Boathouse site. ”There‘s a lot of unfinished business on the pier. What bothers me is how long things drag on.“
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